Durga Puja and Dussehra including Navratri is celebrated prior to onset of winter in India. Dussehra is celebrated with great fanfare in Kullu, Varanasi, Mysore while Durga puja takes center-stage among people from Bengal and Nepal.
These Hindu festivals are based on legendry tales of victory of good over evil. Dussehra is celebrated to mark the defeat of Ravana by Lord Rama. Durga Puja is celebrated to mark the triumph of warrior Goddess Durga over the buffalo demon, Mahishasura.
The vibrant festivities of Durga Puja last for ten days, of which nine nights (Navaratri) are spent in worship.
Navratri is divided into sets of three days to worship three different aspects of the supreme goddess. In the first three days, the goddess is worshipped as a giver of spiritual wealth, "Lakshmi" who is considered to have the power of bestowing on her devotees inexhaustible wealth. The next three days are spent in worshipping "Saraswati" - the goddess of wisdom. In the last three days, the goddess is invoked as a spiritual force called "Durga" in order to destroy our impurities, vices and defects.
Beautiful idols of the Goddess are worshiped in elaborate pandals for nine days, and on the tenth day, these are carried out in procession for immersion (visarjan) in a river or lake.
Navratra (also called Navratri) commences on first day of the bright fortnight in Ashwin month of Hindu calender. The word "Nav-ratri" literally means nine nights in Sanskrit language. During these nine nights, nine forms of "Shakti"- a metaphor for the female divinity - are worshipped.
Believers seek the blessings of all forms of divine femininitity to achieve success in life, hence the nine nights of worship. Many devotees observe fasts and prayers are offered. Nav-ratri period also gives an opportunity for introspection and purification.
Please see our HindiLearner site blog entries for more details about these festivals celebrated all over Indian region in many diffrent forms.
Ramlila, an enactment of the life of Lord Rama, is held during the nine days preceding Dussehra. On the tenth day (Dussehra or Vijay Dasami), larger than life effigies of Ravana, his son - Meghnadh and brother - Kumbhakarna, are set to fire. The theatrical enactments of this dramatic encounter are held throughout the country in which every section of people participate enthusiastically. In burning the effigies the people are asked to burn the evil within them, and thus follow the path of truth and goodness, bearing in mind the instance of Ravana, who despite all his might and majesty was destroyed for his evil ways.
Dussera is also reminiscent of the end of the exile and banishment of the Pandava princes in the Mahabharata and their return with their weapons to reclaim their kingdom. In memory of this epic story, people in Maharashtra worship the implements of their professions and distribute the leaves of the Shami tree as gold and express their goodwill.
For Hindus Dussehra is one of most auspicious festivals of the year.